Using a car at Disney World

by Heather Thomas 15 comments Like the Facebook page

Even though Disney makes it easy for you to leave the driving to them, many people still prefer to use a car when visiting the Walt Disney World Resort. In fact, it's been reported that 70% of people visiting drive - that's a lot of cars!

If you plan on driving (or are thinking about driving) on your next Disney World vacation, we have some tips and suggestions to make it easy.

Let's get started...

Renting a car

If you are flying into Orlando and you plan on driving, you will likely be renting a car. Most people choose to rent a car at the airport; however, if you are only planning to use a car for part of your trip, Disney offers several on-site options for rentals. 

rentalcarmap

Tip: Daily prices tend to go down once you rent for a week, so even if you only need a car for a few days of your trip, be sure to compare prices to see what it would cost for a few days vs. a full week.

Orlando has some of the best car rental prices that I’ve seen anywhere. It isn’t hard to get a good deal; it just takes a little work.

When renting a car, the advice I most often pass along is to book a fully refundable fare when the cost fits your budget, and then check back frequently to see if the prices drop. As long as your fare is refundable, you can cancel and re-book as many times as you’d like making it easy to snag the best price possible.

On my last Spring Break trip, the fare I stuck with was the one I booked at 10 months out. However, on other trips, prices have steadily decreased up until about 3 weeks before. It often pays to keep checking!

When looking for valid discount codes, my favorite place to go is MouseSavers. They always seem to have the best Orlando-specific codes for all the major rental car companies. You can find the list of current codes on their rental car discount code page

Tip: There have been recent reports of price gouging at some of the gas stations closest to the airport. When refilling your tank before your return flight home, I suggest using an app like GasBuddy or Gas Guru to find the best price on your route to the airport, just make sure that if you have to exit a tollway you have enough change for your tolls.

Toll roads

Florida is full of toll roads. Many of the direct routes to Walt Disney World require you to pay a small fee. 

Toll Booth

Unless you have your own SunPass transponder, you will want to be prepared with change to pay your tolls. Toll booths may be unmanned, so having exact change (a baggie full of $8-$10 dollars worth of quarters would be sufficient for the drive to and from the airport) is absolutely necessary.

Most of the rental car agencies offer a “deal” in which they will let you use their SunPass transponder for a daily fee. Be wary of this! You are charged the daily fee every day of your rental in addition to the cost of the tolls.

The fees vary from $3.95 per day all the way up to $10.49 per day. Considering the cost of the tolls is around $3.00 to $4.00 each way, you can see that their “deal” could wind up being a huge expense for you.

To compare the fees that each agency charges you can visit the SunPass website

Best routes from Orlando International Airport (MCO)

If you are driving from home to Walt Disney World, you have probably already mapped out your route. For those flying into Orlando, you may not have thought much about getting from the airport to the Walt Disney World Resort, which is roughly 30 minutes away.

There are 2 main ways to get from MCO to Walt Disney World. There are other routes that may have you avoiding toll roads, but these roads will also be more congested and more likely to have construction issues.

If you are first-time driver (or an infrequent driver) in Orlando, I recommend you stick with the toll roads. It is well worth the few dollars to avoid the traffic.

  • Option 1: SR 528 (Beachline - or B-Line - Expressway)
    • Pro: Cheaper; you'll pay less in tolls
    • Con: Often more congested and you have to connect to I-4
  • Option 2: SR 417 (Central Florida Greeneway)
    • Pro: Less traffic; you'll avoid the I-4 congestion
    • Con: More expensive; you'll pay slightly more in tolls

WDW-Routes-01

Navigating Walt Disney World

Disney is an expert at wayfinding signs. Seriously. I get lost going to my local grocery store but I have no problem navigating Walt Disney World. Major directional signs are bright purple, which makes them easy to recognize. 

Resort signage2As you approach Walt Disney World, the signs for the resort hotels will start off more general, again in purple, with hotels grouped by areas such as “Epcot Resort Area”, “Magic Kingdom Resort Area”, "Animal Kingdom Resort Area", etc.

As you get closer to your destination you will begin to see specific signs for your resort, which will be blue.

To make it easier to get where you are going, make sure to know within which area your resort is located. This is especially true if you are planning to visit another resort hotel for a meal, etc.

WDW-Resort-Area-Hotels-01

I’m ashamed to admit this one, but for years I thought there was only 1 of the giant “Walt Disney World” arch signs, but that isn’t true!

All of the main entrances to Walt Disney World have the giant signs, so don't get confused (and argue with your husband that you are going in circles) if you feel like you keep going through them; you've probably just made a loop and are going back into or out of the Walt Disney World Resort on a different road.

WDW-Gateway-Signs-01

Trust me. It only took me 10 years to figure this little tidbit out so I'm speaking from lots of experience (and embarrassment).

It is important to note that stopping to photograph the signs is not allowed, so if you want a picture make sure to have your phone or camera out and ready. 

Tip: Use burst mode on your phone to snap a rapid series of pictures so you will have several to choose from.

The signs for the 4 main parks, 2 water parks and Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney) are very self-explanatory and plentiful. You can’t miss them! 

Overhead sign

There are usually multiple ways to get to and from different locations. If you miss a turn or an exit, don’t panic; just keep following the signs. I’ve had great luck using MapQuest on my iPhone, so don’t hesitate to use an app like that if you need it.

Parking

If you are staying on-property, parking at both your resort and the parks is free. With the introduction of MagicBands, Disney has been transitioning to a paperless parking pass system. So, if you are used to receiving a paper parking pass that you displayed in your car on previous trips, don’t be surprised if you don’t now. Instead, you may be required to scan your MagicBands. Be prepared to have those ready at both your resort and the parks.

  • Parking Costs
    • 4 main parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Disney's Hollywood Studios)
      • Free for Walt Disney World Resort hotel guests
      • Offsite guests $20/day
      • Passholders - Free with Passholder card and photo ID
    • Resorts
      • Free if you are staying at that resort
      • If you are visiting for dining reservations or to tour, etc., you can park up to 3 hours for free
      • Valet $25/day
    • Water Parks & Disney Springs
      • Free for self-parking
      • Valet parking for $25/day is available at Disney Springs

Parking at all 4 parks is self-explanatory and there are tons of Cast Members working in the parking lots to help you find your way. In my experience, driving and parking at Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios is usually just as fast if not faster than using Disney bus transportation. With these 3 parks you park your car in lots directly outside of the gates.

For parking at the Magic Kingdom, however, it is usually faster to take Disney transportation because the parking lot for that park is actually about a mile away at the Transportation and Ticket Center. In order to get to the Magic Kingdom from there, you have to take either the monorail or a ferry. 

However, if you utilize Disney bus transportation to get to the Magic Kingdom, you are dropped off right outside the gates - no monorail or ferry needed. The other Disney transportation options (boat & monorail) from applicable resorts are also usually faster than driving. 

YetiAll parking lots are well labeled with cute, thematically appropriate names to help you remember where you parked. 

Tip: Make sure to take a picture of your parking space each time you park! This makes finding your car at the end of a long day much easier. 

If you park too far away to walk to the front gates, all parking lots have trams that run a very regular schedule (5-10 minutes apart). As with the buses, you will have to fold your stroller before boarding the tram, so keep that in mind as you unload your car. It might be easier to fully unpack/prepare your stroller for the day after you exit the tram at the park gate. 

At the end of the evening, lines will form for the trams similar to those for the buses. However, the tram lines move very fast and it shouldn't take you too long before you are being dropped off near the end of the aisle where you parked.

If you are leaving at park closing (along with thousands of other people), one thing I have always been surprised at is how quickly and efficiently the parking lots empty. If you've ever attended a large sporting event or concert where there are thousands of people all trying to leave at once, you may have experienced long lines of cars with nobody moving, people getting angry and general chaos. Not so in the Disney parking lots.

You'll be happy to find things to be amazingly easy and simple when leaving. No non-moving bumper to bumper lines of cars or chaos to be found. Like other areas on Disney property, the exit signs are well labeled and it's as easy to find your way out as it is to find your way into the lot.

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I've traveled all over and often find myself nervous or intimidated when driving in a new city. Driving at Walt Disney World, however, is quite simple. If you ask my husband, he would confirm that I am geographically challenged, yet I have no problem at all navigating the Walt Disney World resort.

If you have been thinking about driving but were worried it would be too confusing - don't. Like many other things Disney does, they did wayfinding right and they made navigating the Walt Disney Resort simple enough that even "I" could do it.

If you aren't sure that driving is for you and you'd like to check out what Disney has to offer for transportation, you can read about that in this article on navigating using Disney World transportation.